ORGANIZATIONS working on Cultural Rights

Human Rights Dialogue: "Cultural Rights" (Spring 2005)

May 18, 2005

Nongovernmental Organizations     Inter-Governmental Organizations

Nongovernmental Organizations:

Center for Justice and International Law
Founded in 1991, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) works to achieve the full implementation of international human rights norms in the member states of the Organization of American States through the use of the Inter-American System for the protection of Human Rights and other international protection mechanisms. CEJIL is the first organization to offer an integrated program of defense, free legal consulting, education and oversight of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights and maintains a large and diverse docket of cases, including those pertaining to indigenous and cultural rights claims.

Cultural Survival
Founded in 1972, the US-based organization Cultural Survival works for the promotion of the human rights and cultural autonomy of indigenous people and ethnic minorities. It engages in research and publications, public education and advocacy, and supports small independent projects designed to help indigenous people build organizations, manage natural resources, preserve their languages and culture, and become economically independent.

Culture in Global Affairs (CIGA) at the Elliot School for International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington DC
The Elliot School's Culture in Global Affairs research and policy program seeks to promote the recognition of culture and its policy relevance to global affairs and to policy formulation in areas such as health, the environment, development, conflict resolution, and ethnic and minority rights. The program encourages dialogue and collaboration across disciplines.

Universal Forum of Cultures- Barcelona 2004 and Monterrey 2007
The Universal Forum of Cultures is a new international cultural event and an innovative platform to analyze and discuss the social and cultural challenges of the 21st century. The Forum Dialogues- a series of conferences, congresses, debates, and seminars- aim to promote debate and reflection on issues of global concern. The first Forum, held in Barcelona in 2004, was structured around three main themes: cultural diversity, sustainable development, and conditions of peace. The next edition of the Forum will be held in Monterrey, Mexico in 2007 and will take a thematic approach to culture with a primary focus on knowledge.

Indian Law Resource Center
Founded in 1978, the U.S.-based Indian Law Resource Center engages in legal advocacy throughout the Americas for the protection of indigenous peoples' human rights, lands, and cultures. Among its accomplishments, the Center was involved in the landmark Awas-Tingni case, filed with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which represents an important step for the advancement of international legal protection of indigenous groups' land rights. The Center's recent work has also focused on the advancement of the draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Global Policy Forum
Founded in 1993, the Global Policy Forum is a U.S.-based organization that works with partners around the world to strengthen international law and create a more equitable and sustainable global society. One focus of research and advocacy is in the area of globalization and culture, examining the impact of global communications and business on local cultures.

New York University's "Privatization of Culture Project"
Based in New York University's American Studies Program, the Privatization of Culture Project is a collaborative project with the Sociology Program at the New School for Social Research and the Center for Cultural Studies at the Graduate Center for the City University of New York. The Project promotes and funds research, conferences, and courses on cultural policy, encouraging interdisciplinary thinking that take into account formal and informal markets, institutional participation, and cultural practices.

Survival International
Founded in 1969, Survival International is a UK-based international organization defending the rights of indigenous people through education, advocacy and campaigning. Survival's programs promote respect for indigenous cultures by emphasizing the relevance of traditional ways of life to the contemporary world. Survival provides tribal representatives with a platform for advocacy and organizes worldwide campaigns directed at governments, businesses or organizations whose activities pose a threat to the individual and collective rights of indigenous communities.

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is a research and educational unit at the Smithsonian Institution promoting the understanding and continuity of diverse grassroots cultures. It produces the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, exhibitions, documentary films and videos, symposia, and educational materials. The Center conducts ethnographic and cultural heritage policy oriented research and has been one of the main contributors to the elaboration of UNESCO's International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

International Network on Cultural Policy
The International Network on Cultural Policy is an informal international venue for national ministers responsible for culture to discuss emerging cultural policy issues and develop strategies to promote cultural diversity. Participating states can chair specialized working groups and special policy research teams on particular subject areas identified as priorities by members. The INCP has worked for the adoption of an international instrument on cultural diversity within UNESCO and has proposed the establishment of an "International Network of Observatories on Cultural Policies" to make information on cultural policies available, share best practice and encourage innovative thinking in cultural policy-making and implementation.

Minorities at Risk Project
The Minorities at Risk Project (MAR) was launched in 1986 and has been based at the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management since 1988. MAR monitors and analyzes the status and conflicts of politically active groups in all countries with a population of at least 500,000. MAR 's extensive database tracks groups on political, economic and cultural dimensions and provides standardized information to researchers, educators and the general public, contributing to the understanding of conflicts involving relevant groups.

International Training Center of Indigenous Peoples
Founded in 1997, the Greenland-based International Training Center of Indigenous Peoples offers annual training sessions for indigenous people with an emphasis on the international system. Recognizing the need for more adequate representation of indigenous people in the development of international instruments concerning their rights, the Center offers a learning environment where participants can develop their technical skills and expand their knowledge of international issues in order to play central roles in the international decision-making process.

Transformations: Culture and the Environment in Human Development at the Australian National University
Transformations, an international forum held in Canberra, Australia on February 7-9, 2005, focused on global and local trends in cultural diversity and sustainable development. This landmark event brought together actors working across numerous levels of policy and planning to analyze the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity within a public policy framework. Participants explored the themes of cultural identity, social justice, civil society and productive diversity in an effort to shift the international paradigm of sustainable development by integrating culture at all levels of planning.

Inter-Governmental Organizations:

Council of Europe
Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe (CoE) is an intergovernmental consultative organization with a current membership of 45 countries. Established in the aftermath of WWII, the Council's original aim was to defend human rights, promote cooperation, including in the area of culture, and strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Western Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, the Council has expanded its membership to include the new European democracies, while "acting as a political anchor and human rights watchdog." The Council's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR), adopted in 1950, is the first international human rights treaty with enforceable mechanisms. The European Court on Human Rights set up under the convention is unique in that it allows individuals and groups to appeal directly to an international human rights court. Among the fundamental rights recognized and protected under the ECHR, the right to life, family life, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly are relevant to cultural rights. Cultural rights, specifically in relation to national minorities, are more explicitly defined in the Council's 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which commits the signatories to "promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage."

Founded in 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the UN agency with the most direct mandate for advancing the concerns of culture within the international community. UNESCO promotes international cooperation among its member states in the fields of education, science, culture, and communication. While UNESCO has been most famous for its work on the preservation of cultural monuments and sites, recent UNESCO's initiatives seek to link the problem of cultural diversity to the challenges of development. During the 1990s UNESCO worked towards the elaboration of international instruments related to the non-material aspects of culture. These efforts resulted in the 2003 International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the first standard-setting instrument for the protection of intangible culture. Concerns about the homogenizing effects of globalization among UNESCO members have also informed recent efforts towards the establishment of standards on the safeguarding of cultural diversity. The 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the 2003 Draft Convention on the Protection of Cultural Diversity and Artistic Expression are the latest examples of UNESCO's work in this area.

UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues
Founded in 2000 as an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues formally integrates indigenous people and their representatives into the body of the structure of the UN. The permanent forum is comprised of a committee of experts who provide advice and raise awareness about indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. The forum also promotes the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system. It is currently lobbying for the ratification of a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, first drafted in 1993.

Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities at OSCE
As a reaction to the outbreak of war in Yugolsavia, in 1992 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) created the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) as a new instrument of conflict prevention. Under the position's mandate, the HCNM conducts onsite missions and engages in preventive diplomacy aimed at reducing ethnic tensions. The Office issues non-binding general and country-specific reports and recommendations on national minorities issues in OSCE-participating states. HCNM bases his analyses and recommendations within the framework of international standards that each State has agreed to, including United Nations obligations relating to human rights, and the standards of the Council of Europe.

UN Commission on Human Rights
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is composed of 53 states and has met annually in Geneva since 1947. Over 3,000 delegates from member and observer states and from non-governmental organizations participate. The Commission examines, monitors, and publicly reports on human rights situations in specific countries or on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide. Its main tasks include the elaboration of human rights standards and monitoring the implementation of standards in participating states. In response to new situations and concerns the Commission can establish working groups on particular human rights issues to further elaborate existing standards. Currently there is a working group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and on the elaboration of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Founded in 1979 as part of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous juridical institution charged with ensuring the rights and freedoms provided in the American Convention of Human Rights, including matters relevant to cultural rights. In 2001, in the case of Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua, the Court upheld "the right of indigenous peoples to the protection of their customary land and resources." The decision established an important precedent on indigenous land rights under Inter-American and international law with far-reaching implications for future cases related to the cultural survival and physical well-being of indigenous communities.

United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report Office
Launched in 1990, the Human Development Report Office publishes an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Program. Each Report focuses on a highly topical theme in the current development debate, providing analysis and policy recommendations. The HDR series advocates "a shift in the development debate away from a sole concern with economic growth… toward a balanced concern for equity, sustainability, productivity and empowerment" The 2004 report focuses on "cultural liberty," and makes the case for the adoption of policies that recognize cultural difference. The report also illustrates the growing demand for international clarity on the subject of cultural rights.